When it comes to holiday gifts at the office, when your job and reputation are on the line, it's not just the thought that counts.
Ken Wisnefski, CEO of Internet marketing firm WebiMax, based in Camden, New Jersey, learned that lesson the hard way.
"A few years back, I went through a lot of trouble getting everyone gift baskets with gourmet coffee, holiday nuts and cookies," Wisnefski told ABC News. "I heard a lot of people saying, 'Oh, we already have so many cookies. I don't want to eat too much.' And others were saying, 'I hate nuts.'"
Wisnefski learned a lesson from the experience: While some people might be ecstatic if a co-worker bestowed a generous gift of gourmet coffee, others might prefer a spot of tea.
Of course, Wisnefski's co-workers also might have been able to use a lesson or two in the etiquette of receiving a gift. No. 1: Don't insult the hand that feeds you.
"Most of the coffee mysteriously ended up in our common kitchen area as a donation," Wisnefski said. "I spent a lot of time trying to find different assortments and the actual gift baskets themselves, and clearly the recipients didn't love the gifts."
Here are seven holiday gifts you might want to re-consider before bringing to your workplace gift exchange:
1. Fruit Cake or Not-So-Tasty Food
Those store-bought holiday cookies may look festive, but you and Sarah in IT both know those calories won't be worth the cardboard taste.
"I would go so far as to say to not give any food," said James Pedderson, director of public relations for employment and coaching firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas. "People are so picky about food and with all of the allergies now, there’s almost no chance for success. At the very least, stick to the guideline: If you wouldn’t eat it yourself, don’t give it to someone else."
"While I wouldn’t mind receiving a nice bottle of scotch, you never know what a person’s history or personal feelings about alcohol might be," Pedderson said.
3. Gifts That Give Unwanted Advice
Set aside the urge to passively aggressively tell your co-workers that they need a wardrobe upgrade or to improve themselves in some other way.
4. Crass Joke Gifts
Unless you are a 18-year old working at Hot Topic, it's probably best to keep the toilet humor or sex jokes among your out-of-work social circle and away from any e-cards that can be forwarded to the whole company or your future employer.
5. Cheap Goods
Being frugal is a virtue, not a crime. With quick online delivery or store pick-up, last-minute gifts are everywhere. You can even pick up decent and affordable gifts at Walgreens, which has dubbed itself "the season’s small gifting headquarters."
In a survey of what 799 service providers wanted for the holidays, Walgreens says, despite Wisnefski's experience, food and personal care sets are at the top of the hot list.
6. Intimate Gifts
Your colleague doesn't want to imagine being imagined in lingerie, so don't get too close to your co-worker's physical space.
7. Complicated or Obsolete Technology
"Technology is also something that people vary on and most of it goes unused," Wisnefski said.
Pedderson had one other thought when it comes to what not to give co-workers at the office.
"I wouldn’t give anything you might give as a wedding or house-warming gifts," Pedderson said -- so no sets of barware, platters, serving bowls or vases.
So what should you give?
These days, Wisnefski said, he keeps it simple.
"Gift cards are something that everyone likes, especially if they are from 'larger' more visible brands," he said.
His gift-giving consists of a "grab bag" of American Express gift cards, sprinkled with a few higher denomination cards.
"Everyone comes up and grabs their gift, and then the ones who won the bigger prizes are announced. Everyone loves it," he said. "It creates some buzz and it's always a winner."